The proposed location for the R. J. Reynolds athletic stadium has always been at the center of the conflict between West Highlands neighbors. According to Home Field Advantage - The 501(c)(3) organization spearheading the fundraising efforts to build the stadium - the project would not use any of the publicly owned park property. But for the members of Save Hanes Park, a group of neighbors opposing the construction of the stadium on the proposed site, such structure would fundamentally change the nature of Hanes Park.
“There's kind of this sense of openness and shared space,” explained John Coyne, one of the members of Save Hanes Park.
"Putting up landscape certainly makes it look more attractive but it doesn't take away the fact that people can't access that space or the perception of that space. It will start to close it in and separate it from the rest of the park, and that's not what the land was given to do. It was all meant to work together,” he adds.
It's not the first time that this idea is brought up when talking about this conflict, and because of this, Radio 101 producer Hugh Bray started to look into the history of the park to see what Pleasant Henderson Hanes' intention was when donating this land.
As a way of background, Hanes was a very wealthy man. He had made a fortune in tobacco and textiles, and around the early 1900s he had several dairy farms in the area. According to local historian Fam Brownlee, the development of what is now West Highlands was almost serendipitous.
“Around 1910 he decided that the dairy farm was worth more developed if it was a residential area than a farm, so he began spending a lot of money to develop part of the farm as a residential neighborhood which he called West Highlands, and he thought that he was going to go get rich again.
But things didn't go well there for him in the early days so he was selling lots but he wasn't having people build houses and so it was very thinly populated. So he figured 'what we need here is a park.' With a park here next to West Highlands people would be encouraged to purchase land and build houses.”
As Brownlee explained, around the same time another recognizable name had just passed away: R. J. Reynolds. His late wife, Katharine Smith Reynolds saw what Hanes was doing as a way to honor her husband's memory.
“She sat down with Hanes and they worked out kind of a package deal whereby the city would receive land for Reynolds High School and for the park and she would build at the very highest point on that property a magnificent Auditorium as a monument to her late husband.”
In the letter that they sent to the city, Hanes set a series of conditions for the donation of the land. A copy of the letter is available on the Winston-Salem Journal edition for July 4th, 1919:
“That it be developed substantially in accordance with the suggested plan of proposed development, which I am attaching hereto, and I suggest that such development be made under the supervision of Louis L. Miller, landscape engineer, of Somerville, New Jersey, and that suitable gates be erected at the entrance, appropriately inscribed ‘P. H. HANES PARK'
That this property is to be used forever exclusively for a Public Park, and for high school, vocational and training school purposes, and that no part of it shall ever be used for residential or business purposes.
That no street, carline, railroad, or public thoroughfare, other than the main boulevard, substantially shown on the plan, be built through the property.
That this property be beautified and forever maintained and kept up by the City of Winston-Salem for the purposes mentioned in this offer.
That substantial progress be made within two years from this date in erecting the necessary buildings for high school, vocational, and school training purposes, laying-out the boulevard and waterways, and developing and beautifying the park, substantially as suggested in the plan.”
“That this property is to be used forever exclusively for a public park, and for High School, Vocational and training school purposes and that no part of it shall ever be used for residential or business purposes.” That condition seems to have linked the park and the school forever. Moreover, that same line is what both sides are using to justify their presence in the park.
For those in favor of the stadium, this serves the high school's purpose. Students need to be able to practice sports. For those against, this stadium undermines the idea of a public park itself: a place anyone, no matter what school they go to, can enjoy. Who's right? Neither? Both? Based on Hanes' own words, it's really hard to say. What did H. P. Hanes really mean with that condition? Well, does anyone know a good psychic?